writing a problem statement
Brainstorming and coming up with ideas is stimulating and satisfying. The satisfaction comes from finding good workable solutions to problems. Therefore defining the problem clearly upfront can be a real aid to the idea creation and problem solving that follows.
(See further down the page for a free downloadable problem statement template)
Defining a problem with a Problem Statement is common on academic circles and within TQM and Six Sigma methodologies. For Brainstorming however we need something shorter and simpler.
I’ve had a quick look for a problem statement template specifically for brainstorming. I didn’t find one but did come across some themes that I’ve pulled together into the following process.
The first step is to write down your problem or the current state. Don’t worry too much about quality at this point – simply making a start is significant. Next, expand on your problem by asking the following questions:
- who does it affect / does not affect.
- what does it effect / does not affect.
- how does it effect / does not affect.
- when is it a problem / is not a problem.
- where is it a problem / is not a problem.
Now, re-write your problem statement based on those answers.
The Second step is the same as the first, but focuses on the Desired or Future State.
The Third Step is to combine your revised Problem or Current State and your desired Future State into a single statement. This might take a couple of attempts but stick with it. Finally, review your new problem statement against the following criteria:
- Focused on only one Problem.
- One or two sentences long.
- Does not suggest a Solution.
You should now have a concise and well balanced Problem Statement ready for a brainstorming session. It should be unambiguous and devoid of assumptions. It will enable you or your group to focus in on the problem and work toward solutions that truly fit.
Try it yourself –
Download a Problem Statement workbook by clicking the download icon below:
The following diagram outlines the process: